Yep, New Jersey disappointed the angling and conservation world once again. On Thursday the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council stood up and showed how serious we are about the striped bass and the declining numbers of the stock.
Just when other states, like Virginia, took a hard line on size and bag limits New Jersey voted like there is nothing wrong. Our council voted to keep a two fish limit for the 2015 season. Instead of dropping it to one fish at 28", or the 1@32", we set the following limits.
One fish 28 to 43 inches and a second fish over 43 inches. That my friends is a travesty. You can do all the math you want and can even try and figure that a second fish over 43 inches isn't an easy fish to catch.......but it really isn't......at least for the boat angler.
What they have done is now started, or just ended, a war between the boat and beach angler. It used to be that the recreational and commercial fisherman we pointing fingers at each other. That was easy. They would use the argument that recreational anglers took 27 million pounds of striped bass each year to the commercials 9 million. And those numbers aren't factual. I always said that charter boats, from six packs to party, numbers should be put into the commercial category. They are vessels for hire. They are commercial operations. Even though the fares are fishing for and taking "meat" home for their own recreational pleasure.
But what this new regulation does is pin surf fishermen against boat fisherman, well there was always a divide, but now it will get ugly. In this age of social media, from blogs to fishing forums to fishing report pages, readers are able to see, almost in real time, who is catching when and where and how.
What it came down to was pressure from charter boat captains who feared that reducing a paying customers haul to one fish would hurt an already hurting industry. Duh, yes it will. But that already hurting industry is happening because of the reduced number of fish available to catch and kill. You want to save a fishery......its simple......reduce mortality.
So the early spring clam and bunker bite massacre that happens in Raritan Bay to pre-spawn Hudson fish will continue. Then the bunker snag and drop massacre will continue into the early summer. Then in the fall it will pick up again.
We will continue to see charter boats decks and docks loaded with dead bass. We will now see anglers "catch and releasing" those second fish that don't make the 43 inch mark. So, if your fellow angler next to you doesn't want your second 38 inch fish, and the captain doesn't want it for the boat.....guess what? That means that 10/0 treble snagging hook stuck deep into the striped bass' esophagus will be ripped out and that fish released, if you can call it that, so the angler can catch a "legal" greater than 43" fish. Just look at what happens to those summer flounder shorts.
Most surfcasters seemed to be okay with the one fish limit. Some will take one for the table if at all. It was a mentality shift from the weigh-in and kill tournament mentality that has existed for years to a more conservation minded approach. That felt like they were doing their part.
Enjoying the sport and protecting the fish that they love.
New Jersey should be proud of itself. The ASMFC was looking for a 25% reduction......and according to Russ Allen of the NJDEP, we gave them 25.1%, way to go New Jersey.